When do I need to pick a major by and how important is choosing the right major for my career?

College Prep

Our counselors answered:

When do I need to pick a major by and how important is choosing the right major for my career?

Anne Richardson
Director of College Counseling, International & ESL Programs Kents Hill School

Being Undecided is a Great Way to Apply!...

Being undecided is great – it gives you an opportunity to try different subjects and disciplines in college and discover what you love to do. Liberal arts colleges and programs are perfect for those who are undecided, and it does not hurt you in the admissions process at these schools. However, if you decide you want a pre-professional program like engineering or nursing after your first year, you might have to add a year of school or transfer. All in all, look at this as an opportunity to try new things, listen to different ideas and find something that you love to do.

Carol Morris
Regional Director of Admissions Southern Methodist University

List a Probable Major if You Have One...

There is an old joke that the most popular freshman major is "undecided" and the second most popular is "I changed my mind." Admissions officers are usually interested in whether you have determined that their institution offers majors in which you will be interested, not that you have to know precisely which one (unless a major requires auditions or other prerequisite evidence of skill or preparation.) It does make sense to list your most probable major on your application, not only to help the admission staff determine the fit between you and their program, but just in case there are any departmental scholarships available to entering freshmen.

Charles Moore
Director, Enrollment, IT & Student Services California State University Fullerton

Choice of majors is integral to college selection...

The adage that “schools work best for those who have chosen career paths or professional goals” still holds true for entering college students as well. All new students meet with academic advisors. Those with clear paths get assigned advisors or faculty with related experiences to share and personal knowledge of their desired goals. Undeclared students are assigned to ‘academic generalists’ who may be able to give students advice about choosing appropriate majors but may lack information about the application or transferability of academic coursework into specific career or professional arenas.

Craig Meister
President Tactical College Consulting

There’s no rush to declare, but start researching early...

Most students can’t confidently pick a major when they are eighteen years old; therefore, most colleges won’t penalize you for applying as “undecided.” Far more important to most admissions officers is a student’s ability to communicate clearly about his or her current passions. Figuring out your college major takes time, that’s why most colleges give students four semesters to pick a major. Start conducting online research during your freshman year in high school. The Internet is full of information describing the diversity of college majors. Less time spent on Facebook now can help you pick the right college major later.

Danny Reynolds
Director of College Counseling Palmer Trinity School

This is not Europe, you don’t have to know what you plan to study...

Fortunately, at most good liberal arts colleges you do not have at choose a major until second semester of your sophomore year. Take classes and explore your passions. It is fine if you are undecided and you are not disadvantaged in the admission process. Even after you declare a major, it is likely you will not work in that field. My Georgetown roommate was a Spanish major with an interest in biology. He was accepted and graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School without being a pre-med or science major.

Deborah Shames
Independent College Search Consultant & Transfer Admissions Advisor www.CollegeCoachDeb.com

Know who you are and what makes you happy! Use that to find a career...

I strongly recommend students do some career exploration and a personality profile prior to college. It’s not critical that you map out your whole future at 18, but knowing the what you’re good at and enjoy doing will help you narrow the playing field and provide direction. A huge part of figuring out what you want to do is discovering what you don’t want to do, and that can often only come from experience. Take advantage of internships or job shadowing, even in high school. But be open-minded…take advantage of new opportunities and you just might discover new passions you never knew you had!

Dorothy Styles
Director for College Readiness Programs & Initiatives Project GRAD Atlanta

The major of the applicant is minor to the college admissions process....

College admissions personnel do not focus on the major of the applicant when making the decision to accept, reject, or wait list an applicant. The focus in on the applicant’s SAT or ACT scores, academic record, extra-curricular activities, community service, and the college essay. Undecided students should list the major as undeclared because college admissions personnel understand that for many applicants it takes time to declare a major. Most students take required courses during the freshman year, therefore the first year of college is an excellent time to further explore one’s interests and strengths prior to deciding a major.

Eric Furda
Dean of Admissions University of Pennsylvania

Take New Classes and Explore New Options...

High school students should not feel compelled to have their intended major selected for their college applications. Most college students declare their major towards the end of their sophomore year of college. This sense of ‘un-decidedness’ or ‘undeclared’ can come from a strong interest in multiple fields, so you may want to speak to those interests or check multiple boxes on the application. Most faculty and departments in the liberal arts and sciences will encourage you to explore your interests by taking courses not even offered at most high schools and you may discover new fields of interest, even if you “know what you want to study”. So feel free to keep your mind open and work with advisors once you are in college to explore the curriculum.

Estelle Meskin
Certified Educational Planner EstelleMeskin.com

Mixed message on choosing a major...

Few 17 or 18 year olds have any idea what their major in college should be.  For them college becomes a time to assess their options and figure out the major that has the most appeal and will be beneficial when choosing a career. Fortunately most schools don't require that commitment until end of sophomore year in college.  However, if a student knows what excites them and can verbalize it in their college applications they will have an advantage in their college admissions, i.e. women in engineering, a field where women are outnumbered significantly. Females with outstanding math and science grades and similar interests in high school are frequently sought after by colleges and universities. Also a significant number of parents would like their children to identify a major prior to entering college believing it's more cost effective than having their son or daughter drift aimlessly through college. For these students career assessments and exploration can be beneficial. Even entering college with a chosen major it is well known that many students frequently change their majors. 

Francine Block
President American College Admissions Consultants

75% of students change their major in their first semester!...

A,B,C,or D? What do I want to be when I grow up ? A good time to begin your exploration is the summer between 11th and 12th grade. Try and find a short, relatively inexpensive summer program where you can explore engineering options, what is the difference with business majors, or a communications program that explores all of the opportunities hidden within that broad major. Colleges say that 3/4 of students change their major first semester and 1/2 will do so at least once more before they graduate. College is the time to explore, try subject areas you may never experienced before, most schools will not make you declare your major until spring of your second year, exceptions to this often are engineering, architecture,and for some schools business.